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Baroque Selfies Need More Takes

CLASSIC ART, MODERN STYLE

  If artists in Baroque-era Italy heard the term “selfie,” an expression of confusion, or perhaps outright bafflement, would likely appear on their faces. Today, the word selfie has become a daily phrase, and has been listed in the Oxford English Dictionary since 2013.

 On July 30th, Matthew Harris premiered his series Baroque Selfies at the Leon Gallery in an attempt to explore the flaws that society carries in a “Baroque style.” In Harris’ artist’s statement, he explains his desire to question the ideals of society and its connection to this era’s reliance on social media through vague portraits and sculptural busts.

 Since fine art has progressed away from the perfection once required in its earliest periods, artists have embraced the many blemishes and imperfections that humans have—although some execute this idea better than others.   

   Harris’ work is an amalgam of large canvases painted with Jackson Pollack-meets-Pablo Picasso finesse; a slew of clashing collars and odd substances spread on top of his selfies without apparent organization creates this effect. In front of each of these paintings is Harris’ interpretation of a bust, traditionally a sculptural representation of the human form from head to shoulder; however, these particular busts take the shape of some melted substance only vaguely resembling a human face.

 Leon Gallery houses many of these works, all nearly identical though differing in color schemes and subtly deviating in shape. Harris’ work is interesting, but his use of the  “Baroque” style and the term “selfie” come together in a rather unsatisfying and disconnected way. The style of Baroque was very much about exaggerated motion and very clear, easily interpreted detailed works to express a sense of drama. Harris’ work does not exhibit the traits that would deem it “Baroque,” nor does it even seem connected to the idea of a selfie.

 Selfies are defined as a picture one takes of themselves, usually with a smartphone or camera. Harris’ busts hardly resemble a face and do not give the impression of one taking a photo of themselves. Although Harris states that his work is “general portraits of human vulnerability,” this message does not come across in his series of work.

 That’s not to say that Harris’ work comes without merit: his pieces are a very interesting interpretation of traditional busts—which are by no means exclusive to the Baroque era—and abstract painting. His exploration of portraiture is intriguing and his blatant exploitation of human flaws is a powerful concept, but these ideas seem overworked and don’t carry the beautiful subtlety of disfigurement that Francis Bacon—an inspiration of Harris—executed in many of his paintings.

 Although Harris’ initial vision of human representation is enticing and important, the work lacks an obvious message, and the connection he strives to make between his vision and his artwork is simply not there.

 It is important for humanity to embrace their physical flaws, or at the very least recognize and consider the way they express themselves on interpersonal levels—especially as technology further permeates our lives.  Although Baroque Selfies seemed to slightly miss the mark on this notion, Harris’ work suggests a very intriguing and important jumping off point for artistic commentary.

—Sarai Nissan

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